Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the Lord heard everything they said. Then the Lord’s anger blazed against them, and he sent a fire to rage among them, and he destroyed some of the people in the outskirts of the camp. Then the people screamed to Moses for help, and when he prayed to the Lord, the fire stopped. After that, the area was known as Taberah (which means “the place of burning”), because fire from the Lord had burned among them there. Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:1-6, NLT)
Ah…the Israelites in the wilderness. Never was there a more discontented bunch. We’ve heard numerous sermons on the way they grumbled and complained their way through an eleven-day trip that took forty years. Were they grumbling so much, they kept forgetting to look the map? Was the problem that all the women wanted to stop at the nearest gas station and ask for directions, and the men insisted that they knew where they were? Did the GPS die? Was everyone so mad about things, they just probably didn’t know where to go?
It was all of this, it was none of it, in the sense that the Israelites were thriving on their emotions for forty years. They were so emotionally wound up, they couldn’t see what was right in front of them. It was their bad attitude that led to their lack of faith, but I don’t think we understand what exactly it was about their attitude that led them to that. A lot of preachers attribute their issues to grumbling and complaining, but I think that the issues the Israelites had were far deeper than mere whining. If whining were the real problem, none of us would go anywhere, ever, in our lives. We’ve all succumbed to the temptation to grumble and complain from time to time, but we eventually find a place where we move forward; God doesn’t leave us wandering around in the wilderness for an extended period of time. The problem is far deeper than “looking back” and not being focused. All of us look back over things from time to time, making assessments, remembering how things were, and maybe even enjoying parts of that journey. There is nothing wrong with this, despite what we hear in the church today. In parts of the Bible, God Himself tells us to look back and “remember.” The problem of the Israelites was not in remembering, it was in how they remembered. It was in what they remembered and in the way they remembered their events.
They remembered them emotionally, rather than factually.
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. They were not people who were at the top of the food chain. They did not have the best, but whatever was left over after the Israelites had their piece of the pie. They had to work in hard labor without pay, were abused and mistreated, and had absolutely no legal status whatsoever. Being in Egypt wasn’t a walk in the park. And, in Egypt, because the Israelites were enslaved and suffering (and going through it at that time), they cried out to God to set them free. They were as unhappy in Egypt as they were in the wilderness…they just didn’t remember it that way because their feelings were in the way.
When we remember things emotionally, they seem different than when we went through them. We aren’t objective. We remember things through the way we are feeling about our current situation, through the angst and frustration we are currently experiencing. In our frustration to escape what we are currently going through, suddenly what we came from sounds different to us. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, or maybe it wasn’t what we thought or maybe we can reframe it…
Emotional remembering is crippling the church. We are trying so hard to justify where we are, we are not remembering what we came from correctly. Bondage is bondage, and bondage will remain bondage, no matter how much we want to remember it in a different way. There was something back at that time in your life that you never thought you would get through, nor overcome, that was just as difficult as what you are going through, now. What you went through back then wasn’t easier, it was just different, or it was comparable, you just aren’t remembering it right.
It’s a fact: all of us were in bondage to someone or something, whether it’s our concepts of what our family life should have been (been there) or what our relationships should have been like (been there, too), or drugs and alcohol, or what our jobs or lives were supposed to be like (still there), or our own concepts about what things should have been. We all come wired, thinking people will forever be there, things will forever get better, and our lives will be one way, and when they don’t turn out the way we want, we start remembering our bondages differently in the face of our freedom. No matter how much we cried, screamed, hoped for, and wanted to be free, being free feels different when it feels just as hard and sometimes just as lousy as our bondage felt.
The Israelites were living with the realities of being free. No longer could they blame their bad lives, bad attitudes, and bad choices on the Egyptians. They had to go out and get the manna themselves (really, I think God did enough raining it down from heaven for them, the least they could do was get up and go get it), they had to ration how much they needed, one day at a time, and they had to make sure they didn’t keep it beyond when they were supposed to. God might have led the Israelites, but they had to make their own way into the Promised Land. They had to be accountable and responsible for themselves, and let go of the expectations, concepts, and ideas they had as enslaved people.
The same is true for every single one of us: when we are led out of our bondage, we have to let go of the ideals and concepts we had as an enslaved person. This all sounds fine and good, until the enslavement was from a family member, or a husband or a wife, or a boyfriend or a girlfriend, or a pastor, or someone who was close enough to embed their ideals in us in a relationship that the world says we need to preserve for appearances’ sake. Jesus Himself pointed out that not everyone close to us, even our own family members, would understand why we get free. Yet sometimes, in that freedom, the loss, the difficulties, hurt us so much that we start clouding over the reality of things with our own hopes and expectations.
It’s all in how we remember it. Let’s face it, when garlic and onions are what you’re remembering, it couldn’t have been that sensational. No one eats a dinner and remembers how great the garlic in it was. If the bondage you were in was better, you’d still be there, not remembering bits and pieces that seem appealing in hindsight, but weren’t in the reality. Hurts heal, emotional responses change, and love covers a multitude of losses…but the one thing it will not do is turn garlic into a sustainable experience.
When remembering, always keep in mind that you left where you were for a reason, and you cried out to God, and He heard you. Even though circumstances may not be what you hope they will always be…freedom is better than garlic, every time.
© 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.